Religious fanaticism is, regrettably, front and center in our collective consciousness again in this the summer of bad news. Whether it is Iraq or Israel/Palestine or other places around the globe, many people are quick to point to the role that religion plays in stoking the flames of violence and hatred.
And whenever there is violence associated with religion in the news, we can expect to see articles like “The God Effect” over at Aeon Magazine. The piece, written by Patrick McNamara, seeks to locate the religious impulse in dopamine levels in the brain. There is, according to McNamara, a fine line between “benevolent saints” and “murderous fanatics.” And dopamine, apparently, is one of the main triggers for when this line is crossed. Read more
In Jesus Christ God has promised to every human being a new horizon of possibilities— new life into which each of us is called to grow in our own way and ultimately a new world freed from all enmity, a world of love. To be a Christian means that new possibilities are defined by that promise, not by any past experience, however devastating.
— Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory
I have many conversations with people who find it difficult to believe or people who barely believe or people who want to believe but can’t or people who are embarrassed to believe or people who look down in condescension at those who believe or people who are just bewildered that anyone could believe in something like God or resurrection or hope or any kind of future that is radically dissimilar to the present. This is the shape of our life and imagination in the post-Christian west. Read more
I spent last night at Tuesday L’Arche prayer night. It was a celebratory night in honour of a new leader taking over here in the Lethbridge community, so there was lots of food and laughter, singing and smiles. I don’t get out to these prayer nights nearly as often as I would like to, but whenever I do, I am struck in a new way by the simple profundity of this community of people of all kinds of abilities who are committed to living together, sharing life and love, participating in the good news of the gospel of peace and hope. Read more
Over the last few months, I’ve been following a blog by former Seventh Day Adventist pastor Ryan Bell. The blog is called Year Without God, and chronicles Bell’s decision to take a break from God, walk away from the church, and try living like an atheist for a year. I have more than a few reservations about the project itself (I’ve written about them here), but it has been very interesting to ride along with Bell in the post-church, post-God landscape. Read more
Hockey is Canada’s Religion! So blared the headlines yesterday after the second of our nation’s triumphs with skates and sticks on the Sochi stage. For much of yesterday, Canadian media outlets were aglow with videos and tweets and updates about brave, patriotic Canadians getting up at ungodly hours of the morning and braving frigid temperatures to heroically make their way to the pub (sometimes, without even the lure of alcohol, if you can believe it!) to watch the big game. There were even heartwarming video clips of mosques and churches that decided to show the game before morning worship. The overall mood was exultant. This is what it means to be Canadian, we rehearsed to ourselves over and over again in myriad ways. Read more
So, this one is generating a bit of discussion online today. Apparently Ryan Bell, an American pastor (or former pastor), is going to give atheism a try for a year. He has found himself, over the last number of years, following the well-worn ecclesial trail from orthodoxy to heterodoxy and has arrived at the point where he’s just not sure he can do the whole God thing any longer. He’s not sure what he believes any more, so he’s going to play the field.
Starting with atheism: Read more
Reading David Bentley Hart makes me happy to be a Christian. The closing few pages of The Experience of God are simply a joy to read. Hart’s diagnosis of our present cultural moment with all of its lightly informed and category-confusing debates about atheism and religious belief is penetrating and razor-sharp (not to mention more than a little unsettling!). More importantly, though, his call to return to wonder at the very heart of existence and gratitude toward its source, is welcome and necessary.
It’s easy to gloss over long-ish quotes, I know. But resist the urge in this case. Hart has much to say that is worth thinking about. And he says it, as usual, in truly arresting ways. Read more
A meeting cancellation last night left me with the delightful predicament of how to fill a few an unexpected few free hours. Option A was parking myself on the couch and watching a hockey game, but that space was, lamentably, already occupied by my wife and daughter who were engrossed in a movie. So, naturally, I decided to pick up a book by David Bentley Hart 🙂 (I’ve written before about the delights and challenges of reading Hart before here). The Experience of God is not quite the test of one’s vocabulary (and the blow to one’s pride) as some of Hart’s other works, but it’s still not exactly the shallow end of the pool. Read more
“There are no atheists in foxholes,” goes the famous aphorism. It’s meant, I suppose, to get at the idea that when you’re face to face with darkness and death and horror and suffering, atheism suddenly becomes a less credible option. The reality of death makes believers, or at least desperate hopers out of us all. When our lives are under threat, God seems more palatable. That’s the idea, as I understand it at least. Read more
I’ve mentioned this before here, but one of the first books I tend to reach for when the well of inspiration is running dry and Sunday is approaching distressingly quickly is Frederick Buechner’s Secrets in the Dark. It’s a risky endeavour, to be sure, for reading Buechner’s sermons can either be an experience of inspiration and wonder at the sheer beauty of words and of the skill and poetic brilliance of a finely crafted sermon or one enormous exercise in crashing, at breakneck speed, back down to earth from whatever modest heights I had previously been pleased to imagine I occupied. I usually console myself by imagining that I am only reading the “greatest hits.” Even Buechner must have preached a few lousy, or at least ordinary sermons, even if I haven’t come across one yet… Right? Read more
Every human society is, in the last resort, men banded together in the face of death. The power of religion depends, in the last resort, upon the credibility of the banners it puts in the hands of men as they stand before death, or more accurately, as they walk, inevitably, toward it.
Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy
I’ve written a lot of posts about death here over the years. Usually these are reflections upon the pain and the longing that accompany death, or about what the existence of death and our reaction to its inevitability might say about what it means to be human or about the nature of God and God’s promise. Or these posts represent a personal encounter with death—they are reflections about what it’s like to walk with people through death, or the experience of grief, or whatever. Read more
We were sitting around the table on Saturday night with some good friends, and the conversation turned to philosophy. “Philosophy is kinda interesting,” one friend said, “but it can get frustrating. You can never prove anything. You just talk endlessly and go round and round in circles, but never come to any conclusions.” My wife then offered her customary response that tends to appear whenever the conversation veers into philosophical territory—a response borne out of years of laboured conversations with a husband only too eager to drift off into stratospheres of wild abstraction and impossibility: “Why don’t you just go beat your heads against the wall for a few minutes?! It would be about as productive as talking about philosophy.” Ah, my wife. A pragmatist, to the core. Read more
A few months ago, a book with the ominous sounding title, The Explicit Gospel crossed my desk, quickly assuming its position among all the other sad, neglected books strewn around my computer. “What an interesting title,” I initially thought. Then I read the back cover and noticed that the recommendations came mostly from A-list members of the neo-Reformed crowd (Mark Driscoll, et al). My interest began to wane. I read the introduction where the author diagnosed the church’s problems as not preaching or adhering to an “explicit” enough gospel message. I began to suspect that I had seen this movie before. Another withering critique of the “soft” state of current preaching, of the mushy, squishy Jesus that people tend to prefer, of the social gospel, of the dangerous departure from salvation by grace alone, another clarion call from the young, restless, and Reformed to return to true biblical preaching. I haven’t gotten much further in this book. Read more
A few reflections on unrelated themes for a Wednesday morning…
I was having a conversation with a person this morning who has been navigating the murky waters of trying to discern the best treatment options for a health concern. One doctor recommends this, one recommends that, one tries to push pills, one recommends “natural” treatments, one article says this, another article says that. Often, the opinions are wildly contradictory. How do you make a good decision in the face of such divergent viewpoints—especially when the purveyors of this or that position almost invariably stand to profit, directly or indirectly, from your agreeing with them?
Who do you trust when everyone has a vested interest in convincing you that they are right? Read more
What if we just made God up?
The question came not from a despairing parishioner or a reader of my blog or an inquisitive university student at a trendy coffee shop. No, the question came from my twelve-year-old son at a sushi joint last weekend while drumming on the table with his chopsticks in between green tea and California rolls. Read more
I’ve been spending some time in the first two chapters of Genesis over the last few weeks as we make our way into a summer worship series on creation. And one cannot read very far in the literature about the first two chapters of the bible without at some point encountering the predictable, tendentious battles between evolutionary naturalism and creation, science and religion, etc. It seems to me that those who get the most excited about these issues often quite badly misunderstand either the nature of science or the nature of religion. Or both. And this tends to lead to a considerable amount of heat and not a great deal of light being generated in public discourse on this issue. Read more
Based on my own entirely unscientific observations, it seems that there is a burgeoning market for “recovering pastor who saw the godless light” stories these days. The genre is familiar enough by now, right? Fundamentalist pastor grows up in the church, uncritically swallows the whole religious package, devotes x number of years to serving as pastor in [insert small Bible belt American town here], gradually begins to have doubts, finally has the courage to leave his (it’s almost always a “he” so far) faith behind, is persecuted, scorned and rejected by his townsfolk and former parishioners still imprisoned by the shackles of fantasy and indoctrination he has so recently (and heroically) shed, and eventually staggers into the warm and compassionate embrace of this or that atheist group devoted to helping recovering clergy. And then, for the triumphant finale, our hero embarks on a life of spreading the good news of atheist liberation on [insert motivational speaking tour here] amassing inspiring (de)conversion narratives of other clergy that he has “helped” along the way. It’s not a bad gig if you can get it. Read more
That may be true for you, but how can you say that it is true for everyone else when there are so many different understandings of truth out there
This is, of course, among the most common questions out there in postmodern-dom and, more specifically, in the context of the religious/ethnic/cultural diversity that is becoming the new normal in Canada and the West in general. Christians are becoming increasingly aware that there is much that is good and true and beautiful in a wide variety of worldviews and practices. We are also alert to the painful reality that the Christian worldview has all too frequently been aligned with the interests of colonialism and other less overt modes of cultural imperialism. It can be a tricky thing, this business of expressing one’s convictions about the particularity of truth amidst all of diversity and historical error and the baggage that comes along with it. Read more